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Antonia Gibson v. Sharon Regional Hospital System

March 18, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Conti, District Judge



Pending before the court is the motion for summary judgment ("Motion," ECF No. 28) filed by defendant Sharon Regional Hospital System ("defendant" or "SRHS") with respect to claims asserted by plaintiff Antonia Gibson ("plaintiff" or "Gibson") under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000(e) et seq.; and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA")*fn1 , as amended 43 PA. CONS. STAT. §§ 951, et seq. Plaintiff initially filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") for race and age discrimination and retaliation and cross-filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. Thereafter, plaintiff withdrew her claims for age discrimination and retaliation. The sole remaining claim plaintiff asserts against defendant is employment discrimination based upon her race and arising from her termination by defendant on October 6, 2008. (First Amended Complaint, ECF No. 19.) After considering the defendant‟s Motion and brief in support (ECF No. 30), plaintiff‟s response and brief in support (ECF Nos. 31, 32), the parties‟ combined statements of material facts ("CSF," ECF No. 38), and the other submissions of the parties, and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of plaintiff, defendant‟s Motion will be granted for the reasons set forth below.

II.Factual Background

The factual background is derived from the undisputed evidence of record and the disputed evidence of record viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986) ("The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in h[er] favor.").

A.The Parties

SRHS is a comprehensive health care organization serving communities in and around Sharon, Pennsylvania. (Brief in Support of Defendant‟s Motion for Summary Judgment 3; Jan Wetherstein ("Wetherstein") Dep. 6, 16, Mar. 3, 2010, ECF No. 30.) Among other services, SRHS offers both inpatient and outpatient behavioral health services. (Id.) The fourth floor of Sharon Regional Hospital houses the Inpatient Behavior Health Unit (the "BHU"), with separate facilities for child/adolescent ("child") and adult patients. (CSF ¶¶ 2, 4, ECF No. 38.) The child unit houses twelve patients, while the adult unit has twenty-four beds and three seclusion rooms. (CSF ¶ 4, ECF No. 38.) Mental health workers are assigned to work on the child unit and on the adult units. (CSF ¶ 5, ECF No. 38.) The mental health workers are directed by a nurse assigned to their respective unit. (Id.) Defendant‟s management determines the number of mental health workers on a unit based upon the number of patients and their acuity. (CSF ¶ 6, ECF No. 38.) The child unit normally has one mental health worker and one nurse, and relies upon workers on the adult unit to respond to any emergencies that occur on the child unit. (CSF ¶ 7, ECF No. 38.)

During the relevant time period, Cindi DeLouis ("DeLouis") was the director of Inpatient Behavioral Health Services ("BHS"). (CSF ¶ 3, ECF No. 38.) DeLouis reported to Charles Hahn ("Hahn"), the vice president of BHS. (Id.) Wetherstein was the coordinator and a manager of BHS. (Id.) John P. Davidson ("Davidson") was the vice president of human resources. (CSF ¶ 29.) Rhonda Brewer ("Brewer") was a clinical manager. (CSF ¶ 21, ECF No. 38.)

Gibson, an African-American female, was employed by defendant as a mental health worker on the BHU from May 10, 1999, until October 6, 2008. (CSF ¶ 1, ECF No. 38.) She was a member of the direct care staff responsible for monitoring and caring for patients on the adult unit of the BHU. Gibson was directed by nurses assigned to her unit. (CSF ¶ 5, ECF No. 38.) Defendant terminated plaintiff after an incident that occurred on the BHU on September 13, 2008. (CSF ¶ 1, ECF No. 38.) Defendant‟s stated reasons for terminating plaintiff‟s employment are: a) a September 13, 2008 incident involving the request for a wheelchair; b) plaintiff‟s inability, even after it was explained to her, to articulate what she would have done differently if confronted with a similar emergency in the future; and c) plaintiff‟s prior work history. (CSF ¶ 72, ECF No. 38.)

B.September 13, 2008 Incident

On September 13, 2008, the nurse on duty in the child unit, Cindy Simpkins ("Simpkins"), directed the mental health worker on the child unit that day, Melissa Nagy ("Nagy"), to call over to the adult unit for a wheelchair in order to transport a patient on the child unit, who had become ill, to a medical floor for treatment. (CSF ¶ 8, ECF No. 38.) Nagy called the adult unit and asked plaintiff to bring a wheelchair to the child unit. (CSF ¶ 9, ECF No. 38.)

Plaintiff told Nagy that she was "unable to bring the wheelchair down due to the fact that she was the only mental health worker on duty, and [ ] was responsible for doing the fifteen-minute checks." (CSF ¶ 11, ECF No. 38.) In a follow-up report on the incident, Nagy stated that she asked plaintiff if one of the nurses could bring the wheelchair. (CSF ¶ 12, ECF No. 38.) Plaintiff told Nagy that "the nurses were off the unit, so was the secretary, and that as soon as they came back up for their dinner breaks, [plaintiff] would let them know that [the wheelchair] was something that [Nagy] needed." (CSF ¶ 13, ECF No. 38.) When the wheelchair did not arrive, Simpkins, the nurse on the child unit, directed Nagy to go down to the adult unit and get the wheelchair herself. (CSF ¶ 14, ECF No. 38.) Nagy did so and stopped by the conference room as she was leaving the adult unit where she saw plaintiff, the adult unit secretary, Jennifer Russell ("Russell"), and a nurse in the adult unit, Jessica Upshir ("Upshir"), seated at the table. (Id.) Russell, Upshir, and a third unidentified person had returned to the unit at the same time Nagy came down to the adult unit to get the wheelchair. (CSF ¶ 15, ECF No. 38.) Moments before Nagy entered room and announced that she had retrieved the wheelchair herself, plaintiff finished the patient checks and entered the break room to discover that Russell and Upshir had returned from dinner. (CSF ¶ 14, ECF No. 38.)

Nagy returned to the child unit with the wheelchair, and, along with the security guard, transported the ill patient to a medical unit on the fifth floor. (CSF ¶ 16, ECF No. 38.) Later that day, Russell called Nagy to ask her why she was so angry when she came to the adult unit to get the wheel chair. Nagy responded that she previously asked plaintiff, to no avail, to have someone bring a wheelchair to the child or adolescent unit. (CSF ¶ 17, ECF No. 38.) Russell told Nagy that plaintiff did not tell anyone in the adult unit that the child unit had an emergency, needed help, or had requested a wheelchair. (Id.)

C.DeLouis' Investigation

After learning about the September 13, 2008 incident, DeLouis, the director of BHS, initiated an investigation to determine what had occurred and whether anything needed to be done to prevent a similar incident in the future. (CSF ¶ 18, ECF No. 38.) As part of the investigation, DeLouis interviewed and obtained written, signed statements from Nagy, Russell, and Upshir.*fn2 (CSF ¶¶ 18, 77, ECF No. 38.)

In her statement Upshir, the nurse on the adult unit, noted that she was one of three staff members sitting in the conference room when Nagy came in and stated that she "got her own wheelchair, thanks." (CSF ¶ 19, ECF No. 38) Upshir reported that when she asked the others what that was all about, plaintiff stated that Nagy had called earlier to the unit asking for a wheelchair, but "[plaintiff] told [Nagy] that we were too busy to bring one to her."*fn3 (Id.) Upshir stated that prior to Nagy‟s appearance, Upshir was not aware of any medical situation occurring on the child unit, or any need for a wheelchair by the child unit staff. (Id.)

Russell, the secretary on the adult unit, stated in her report that plaintiff told Upshir and her that the child unit called the adult unit and requested a wheelchair. (Id.) Russell indicated that she called Nagy approximately fifteen minutes after the conference room incident. At that time Nagy told Russell that she had requested a wheelchair, as soon as possible, due to a medically unstable patient that needed to be transported to a medical floor. According to Russell, plaintiff did not communicate Nagy‟s request. (CSF ¶ 20, ECF No. 38.)

DeLouis did not ask plaintiff to provide a written statement about the September 13, 2008 incident. (CSF ¶ 78, ECF No. 38.) Instead, DeLouis interviewed plaintiff and drafted a document entitled, "Note to Employee File" ("Note"). Plaintiff did not sign the Note or have any opportunity to review it before the document was placed in her file. (Id.) Plaintiff testified that the Note differs substantially from the conversation that she actually had with DeLouis in six ways:

1) DeLouis stated in the Note that,

Toni [Gibson] stated that at the time of the phone call, she and one of the RN staff were on the adult unit.

(CSF ¶ 79, ECF No. 38.) Plaintiff, however, reported to DeLouis that she was not aware of the location of the nurse, who was to be on the unit, and that she searched for the nurse, but was unable to locate her.

2) DeLouis stated in the Note that,

Toni [Gibson] admits that once she hung up the phone, she did not go to find the RN on the floor to report this information.

(Id.) Plaintiff denied this admission and reiterated that she searched for the nurse, but was unable to locate her.

3) DeLouis stated in the Note that,

Toni [Gibson] stated she did not inform [the two staff members] of the patient emergency or the request for wheelchair assistance on the child unit.

(Id.) Plaintiff denied making this statement and testified that Nagy arrived to retrieve the wheelchair at the same moment that plaintiff learned the other employees assigned to the unit had returned from break.

4) DeLouis stated in the Note that she gave plaintiff four suggestions for responses she could have taken upon receiving the request:

a). Toni [Gibson] could have immediately sought direction from the RN (Toni‟s superior) on the adult unit as to how they (the adult staff) should have responded to this emergent request;

b). Toni [Gibson] could have placed a phone call directly to the House Nursing Supervisor for direction;

c) Toni [Gibson] could have discussed the request with the RN on her unit and offered to take the wheelchair to the child unit staff; and

d) At a minimum, Toni [Gibson] could have initiated finding a wheelchair on the adult unit and contacted the child unit to let them know that a chair was being placed in the hallway for them to pick up if she felt they could not leave the unit.

(Id.) Plaintiff testified that DeLouis told her two suggestions, i.e., plaintiff could have: 1) looked for the wheelchair, or 2) called the nursing supervisor -- who was not identified and from whom defendant did not solicit a statement indicating that she or he was present and available.*fn4

(CSF ¶ 79, ECF No. 38.) Neither Upshir nor Nagy contacted the nursing supervisor. (CSF ¶ 24.) The remaining two "suggestions" required that the nurse assigned to the unit be present, and plaintiff stated she told DeLouis that was not the case.

5) DeLouis stated in the Note that,

Toni [Gibson] admitted she did nothing with the request and recognized and admitted that she was neglectful to the request thus placing a patient at further risk by her own lack of response. (Id.) Plaintiff testified that these were DeLouis‟ words and not hers and that she told DeLouis, as the only staff member on the adult unit, she had a responsibility to care for the fourteen patients of that unit.

6) DeLouis stated in the Note:

Discussed with Toni [Gibson] that she had a responsibility to notify her superior, the RN on the unit. As the licensed person responsible to oversee and direct the patient care, the RN is the person who will make the decisions. Toni admitted that she actively did not seek direction from the RN or other staff returning from lunch. Instead she chose to make the decision to do nothing.

(Id.) In response to this notation, plaintiff testified that she informed DeLouis that she was not aware of the location of the nurse that was to be on the unit and searched for the nurse, but was unable to locate her. Plaintiff reiterated that at the time she became aware that the other two staff members had returned from break, Nagy entered the room and informed all who were present that she had obtained a wheelchair. (Id.)

During plaintiff‟s deposition, the following colloquy occurred with respect to DeLouis‟ Note:

DEFENSE COUNSEL: In that paragraph it reads, "Toni [Gibson] admitted that she actively did not seek direction from the R.N. or other staff returning from lunch. Instead, she chose to make the decision to do nothing."

Is that an accurate statement of what you told Cindi DeLouis?

PLAINTIFF: No, sir. That is not an accurate statement.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: In what way is it ...

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